Boetie Kom Kyk: the story of the last sheep shearers of Nieu-Bethesda:
Boetie Kom Kyk is a film about the last team of sheep shearers in the small Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda. The shearers are dependent on the wider agricultural economy of the area as they are sought out by farmers who require their service and labour. In anthropological terms, the word outspan signifies an almost arbitrary area of lodging which hosts labourers on a neutral or rather governmental piece of land. This is what the side-lined community of the “coloureds” in Nieu-Bethesda seem to be part of. Their existence is strategically placed in locations of comfortable proximity which suit those who may need their labour. It is commonly thought of that the relationship between the farmer and the shearer is symbiotic; but rather, it seems quite obviously the opposite – the farmer only has to deal with the labour when it suits him/her, and is able, due to the fact that the labourers are not represented by any union, and the fact that they are wholly dependent upon the farmers for employment, to exploit this labour. Since sheep shearing is seasonal work, the shearers are dependent on the times when they are needed by the farmer to provide for their families in the times when work is scarce.
The rural poor have come to be known as the poorest of the poor, and what separates these San descendants from the other rural poor, is the fact that in the political system of the past and the present, they have been rendered invisible, misrepresented and silenced. Their role in the wider agricultural community is only known by the farmers who use their labour, and they lack a dignified recognition of their contribution to the economy of wool production.
During the shearing season the shearers usually go out and stay for periods of time on the farms, dependent on the amount of sheep being sheared. When sleeping over, the farmers provide the shearers with food and tobacco which are deducted at the end of the stay from their wages.
They are not unionised. They have subservient and weak bargaining positions as they are at the pure mercy of the farmer. They do not live on the farms and thus the farmer has minimal responsibility towards them.
It is under these conditions, that we find our story of the sheep shearers of Nieu-Bethesda manifest. Amidst very harsh conditions exacerbated by the incredibly ruthless landscape of the Karoo, we sought to represent the dignity of these sheep shearers, and highlight their existential content and optimistic humility.
The documentary was done so in a reflexive manner, where the characters were very excited to participate in this glimpse into their lives. The film thus works as an invitation to literally “come and have a look”; the name of the team couldn’t have been more apt to the purpose and aim of the film. We are looking forward to taking the film back to the community, where we will interview them about their feelings on the film, and hopefully hear from community members who are not part of the shearing team what their feelings are concerning the representing of the team at work.
Boetie Kom Kyk is thus ultimately a film of phenomenological inquiry into the being of the sheep shearers of Nieu-Bethesda. It is a film about humanity, and the ability to overcome abject poverty by way of dignity and optimism, forward-looking solution-based attitudes which aim to sooth and excite existence rather than exacerbate it.